"How do I teach my dog to be more dog-friendly?"
"How do I introduce my dog to my friends' dogs?" "I'm considering adding a dog to our family... how do I make sure my dog gets along with the new puppy/dog?" "My dog was kicked out of daycare. I need him to get along with other dogs."
These are common things we hear, and I want to help! First, let's introduce some terms. Integrating and socializing are two different things. Integration is the process of teaching an established dog to live with a new dog in the day-to-day. Dogs who need to integrate are dogs who will be living together for the long term.
Socialization is the occurrence of your dog being around and interacting with new dogs outside the family unit at home. Socialization refers to short bursts of social activity. These social interactions are irregular, infrequent, or otherwise outside the normal flow of day-to-day life. *** Doggie Daycare falls into this category, even if your dog goes regularly, as the dogs present at daycare often rotate and the group dynamic shifts. ***
Socialization is likewise different than “being social," aka sociability.
Sociability is the natural friendliness level of your dog. It describes how open your dog is to interactions with new dogs, and how positively or negatively they view new dogs outside the family unit. Sociability is a genetic trait that describes part of your dog's overall temperament and personality.
The “pro-social to antisocial” scale is a bell curve. Your dog's Sociability Level falls somewhere on this curve. "Extremely Anti-Social" describes the low percentage of dogs who are 1) truly aggressive and/or predatorial toward other dogs OR 2) dogs who are highly aloof and do not want any interaction with any other dogs whatsoever. These dogs LOVE attacking, hunting, and fighting with other dogs in the first case, or will respond with aggression to a dog who approaches them in the second case. "Extremely Pro-Social" refers to the low percentage of dogs who truly love everything and everyone. These dogs can sometimes exhibit reactivity related to their frustration that they're not allowed to greet everyone and everything on sight. They are not aggressive, but can be rude. They're rudeness can create conflict with other dogs. The vast majority of dogs fall in the "Dog Selective" range of the bell curve. Dog Selective dogs are friendly with the types of dogs they like and understand, and can be unfriendly to or wary of other types.
In puppies, we can affect the natural sociability of the dog to some degree. We do this in two ways. 1) by providing positive social experiences with other dogs in a controlled environment, and 2) by accidentally placing the puppy in situations that frighten him. The recent phenomenon of the "C0VID Puppy" -- dogs who spent their puppyhood and adolescence in isolation from other dogs and most experiences in the world outside their home -- is a separate, though related, issue that can affect a dog's sociability.
In adults, the best practice is clear boundaries and management. By the time a dog has reached maturity (around 3-4 years old typically), their sociability is pretty set. They have their preferences, their likes and dislikes, their level of social awareness and savvy based on their puppy experiences.
Knowing your dog's sociability is the first step to knowing how to properly socialize your dog, make decisions about your dog and other dogs, and how to navigate social situations.